Current research

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Current ongoing projects

PrevenD 2.0: Cognitive Control Training for depression

Researchers: Yannick Vander Zwalmen & Constance Nève de Mévergnies 
Principal Investigators/promotors: Ernst Koster, Kristof Hoorelbeke, Chris Baeken & Nick Verhaeghe

The high prevalence and frequent recurrence of depression pose a major challenge, requiring new, innovative interventions. Cognitive control training (CCT) has gained attention as an intervention to remediate cognitive impairments and decrease depressive symptomatology. The PrevenD 2.0 project researches the effectiveness and efficacy of CCT on depression vulnerability.

Funder: Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)

For more information, check out the external project website.


Experimental research on the sequence of emotion regulation

Researcher: Jente Depoorter
Principal Investigators/promotors: Rudi De Raedt & Kristof Hoorelbeke

Emotion regulation is an important transdiagnostic factor. Recently, Berking & Lukas developed a theoretical framework, the Adaptive Coping with Emotions Model, which makes the assumption that the sequence of emotion regulation may play an important role. This research project aims to investigate (1) the sequential aspect of emotion regulation and (2) whether a particular sequence (relax, accept, regulate) can lead to more efficient emotion regulation.

The first phase of the project is exploratory, in which a network analysis on existing ERSQ data and an experimental study on spontaneous emotion regulation will be executed. In a second phase, two lab studies with experimental manipulation will take place. One on instructed emotion regulation (relax, accept and regulate) and one on different ways of vagus nerve stimulation. In the last phase, a study will investigate the consolidation effects and ecological validity of resonance frequency breathing.

Funder: Ghent University

For more information, please contact Jente Depoorter.


The Effect of Attention Training on Symptoms and Emotion Regulation in Depressive Patients: Validation of the Online Cognitive Attention Training (OCAT)

Researcher: Sarah Struyf
Principal Investigators/promotors: Rudi De Raedt & Ernst Koster

Biased information processing contributes to the risk and maintenance of emotion dysregulation and affective disorders such as depression. Prior research shows that an interactive attention training in which participants learn to unravel scrambled sentences ("life is my a party mess") in a positive manner ("my life is a party") facilitates modification of attention and interpretation biases and contributes to adaptive emotion regulation and reduced symptoms (i.e., depression, anxiety and stress) in non-clinical samples.

In the current study we aim to test the effect of psychoeducation in combination with a novel 10 day Online Contingent Attention Training (i.e., OCAT) on symptoms and emotion regulation in depressive patients. Because attention and cognitive control mechanisms prior (i.e., proactive control) and after (i.e., reactive control) negative stressors may play a role in the effects, the current study includes additional techniques to influence proactive control (i.e. psychoeducation, short motivational video).

Funder: Ghent University

For more information, please contact Sarah Struyf.


TRIAD project: Biobehavioral triadic dynamics of stress resilience transmission in families

Spokesperson consortium/Principal Investigator: Rudi De Raedt
Research coordination: Matias Pulopulos

PI University of Antwerp: Frank Kooy
PIs KU Leuven: Guy Bosmans, Eva Ceulemans, Rudi D’Hooge
PIs UC Louvain: Alexandre Heeren
PIs University of Mons: Mandy Rossignol & Sarah Galdiolo

Stress Resilience (SR), defined as the ability to bounce back after a stressful episode, is a major factor in our susceptibility to psychopathology. SR (or lack thereof) transmits across generations; however, the determining factors remain unknown. The TRIAD consortium, composed of research groups from five Belgian universities (Ghent University, University of Antwerp, KU Leuven, UCLouvain, University of Mons), investigates the factors and dynamics that contribute to effective SR transmission between mother-father-child triads.

We will investigate this in families with children aged between 10 and 12 years. The project aims to assess triadic member SR in interaction and define biobehavioral family profiles that influence SR transmission (including epi-genetic, endocrinological, and family climate variables). We will also examine biobehavioral synchrony between triad members and its effect on SR transmission and investigate triadic SR transmission in daily life.

Funders: FWO and FNRS within the Excellence of Science program (EOS)

For more information, please contact Matias Pulopulos.


Stress detection from speech

Researcher: Mitchel Kappen
Principal Investigator/promotor: Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt
Collaborators: Kristof Hoorelbeke, Sofie van Hoecke, Gert Vanhollebeke, Jonas van der Donckt & Nilesh Madhu

In recent literature, the possibility of stress detection through speech has been opted since the production of speech. Even though it feels like a simple process to us, it involves many different bodily processes and parts. Therefore, we are focusing on the development of accurate stress detection methods from spoken words to take the next step towards a method of remote stress assessments that has an unlimited range of applications, such as employee stress levels, strenuous/high-risk jobs, and relapse detection in psychological diseases.

Funding: King Baudouin Foundation

For more information, please contact Mitchel Kappen.


Stress and Emotions during the Menstrual Cycle

Researcher: Mitchel Kappen
Principal Investigator/promotor: Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt
Ghent University Hospital: Steven Weyers

Over 70% of women who menstruate report the experience of complaints related to their menstrual cycle. Often, these are not problematic, however, in 20-40% of the women, this leads to sizable inconveniences, and in some even to the disruption of daily activities. This is due to hormonal fluctuations during different phases of the menstrual cycle that influence the way you feel and react to your surroundings. The current study aims to learn more about how stress and emotions are experienced and expressed during different phases of the menstrual cycle.

For more information, please contact Mitchel Kappen.


Neural mechanisms underlying criticism

Researcher: Qinyuan Chen
Principal Investigators/promotors: Chris Baeken & Rudi De Raedt

In everyday life, people can receive criticism or negative feedback from others. Being criticized is a distressing experience and activates self-conscious emotions (e.g., feeling hurt) and self-referential thinking, which need to be regulated to prevent maladaptive emotional responses. People who are sensitive to criticism are more likely to have a high risk for developing mood, anxiety and other affective disorders. In this project, using fMRI, we aim to investigate the neural mechanisms when people are confronted with criticism. Furthermore, we also want to detect neuroimaging biomarkers for predicting vulnerability for psychopathology.

Funders: Special Research Fund Ghent University & China Scholarship Council (SCS)

For more information, please contact Qinyuan Chen.


Physical exercise to bounce back from perseverative cognition: focus on bottom-up and top-down influences of the heart-brain nexus

Researcher: Emmanuelle Schoonjans
Principal Investigators/promotors: Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt & Rudi De Raedt
Collaborators: Christina Ottaviani, Erik Witvrouw

Perseverative Cognition (PC), i.e. intrusive, uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts regarding past stressful events or feared future outcomes, plays a crucial role in stress recovery. These PCs are associated with imbalances in the heart-brain nexus, reflected in reduced parasympathetic control (over sympathetic reactivity) and reduced prefrontal control (over limbic reactivity). Research has shown that physical exercise—regular and acute— reduces the duration of negative mood during recovery, possibly via the influence of this heart- brain nexus and associated PC. The aim of this project is to investigate the psychophysiological working mechanisms underlying PC during stress recovery, using physical exercise to increase parasympathetic (vagal) tone, and prefrontal neuromodulation to boost this heart-brain nexus. We conduct well-powered studies, both in a controlled lab setting and in daily life of caregivers who are facing chronic stress, to investigate PC in the context of high stress. We investigate how physiological factors (metrics of parasympathetic activity) and heart-brain couplings contribute to individual differences in bouncing back from PC. We take an interdisciplinary approach.

Funder: Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)

For more information, please contact Emmanuelle Schoonjans.


Personality types and individual differences in information processing in older adults

Researcher: Xenia Brancart
Principal Investigators/promotors: Rudi De Raedt, Gina Rossi & Eva Dierckx

The general objective of my joint PhD research (VUB-UGent) is to increase insight into the relationship between personality types, psychological functioning and information processing in older adults in order to develop a targeted cognitive intervention to facilitate effective emotion regulation. All sub-objectives, except the RGM-study, are studied in a clinical and non-clinical group of older adults (≥60 years old). As a first subgoal, it will be explored whether the resilient, under- and overcontrolled (RUO) personality types can be identified based on temperamental factors Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS), Behavioural Activation System (BAS) and Effortful Control (EC) in older adults. Secondly, the relationship between the found personality types and psychological functioning (i.e. (mal)adaptive personality traits) will be investigated. Since the biological systems associated with BIS and BAS are also linked to cognitive and emotional functioning, the link with neuropsychological functioning (i.e. core executive functions) and cognitive emotion regulation will also be studied as a third and fourth sub-goal. The results of the above-mentioned studies will be used to develop a targeted procedure to assess cognitive functioning and emotion regulation in older adults with less resilience, within a transdiagnostic perspective. The Ronnie Gardiner Method (RGM), that seems to improve both well-being and cognitive functioning, is considered for this purpose.

Funder: Interuniversity Research Alliance Ghent University/University of Brussels(VUB): ‘Personality and Information Processing in Older adults’.

For more information, please contact

Harnessing the power of placebo with prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation: an experimental psychopathological research line

Postdoctoral research fellow: Jens Allaert
Promotors: Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt & Rudi De Raedt

Depression is highly prevalent, and is characterized by aberrant prefrontal and fronto-limbic connectivity, associated with difficulties in executive functions (e.g., working memory) and maladaptive emotion regulatory processes. Prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS; i.e., a non-invasive brain modulation technique that influences neural activity) is rising in popularity as a potential low-cost, easy to use, and self-administrable treatment for depression. However, effect sizes of tDCS protocols are rather modest and there is a large variability in the clinical response. Based on placebo-mechanisms, the expectancies that people have surrounding the efficacy of a treatment can significantly influence clinical response. It is suggested that a considerable portion of tDCS responsivity could be due to these non-specific, expectancy effects, although the specific contributions remain unclear. In addition, research suggests that tDCS is more efficacious when applied in a context (e.g., cognitive task, training) that engages the same neural network(s) as the targeted network of tDCS. In this way, positive expectancies could boost the effects of prefrontal tDCS, as expectancies also rely on prefrontal networks. In view of this, the aim of this project is to investigate a) the contribution of non-specific effects, and b) how explicit expectancies may interact with tDCS, on processes (working memory and emotion regulation) related to the pathogenesis of depression.

Funder: Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)

For more information, please contact Jens Allaert.

Multiple paths to rumination: explorative network analysis approach

Researcher: Gerly Tamm
Principal investigators/Promotors: Kristof Hoorelbeke & Ernst Koster

One of the key processes that affects everyday functioning of many people in the general population is rumination. The literature suggests that there are multiple etiological pathways that underlie rumination. This study aims to explore the cognitive foundations of rumination with an emphasis on bringing together ideas from multiple prominent models for rumination, cognitive control, and self-regulation. This study will complement the current literature by adding a theoretically founded and empirically tested comprehensive view on the associations between the key variables in rumination.
The project includes several online and in-person. We will use a data-driven exploratory network analysis approach to discover the best theoretically, and empirically valid model that describes the associations between the key variables in rumination. The final model will help to provide a comprehensive framework for future studies to test more specific hypothesis about the mechanisms underlying rumination.

Funder: Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)

For more information, please contact Gerly Tamm.


Predictive Modelling of Social Anxiety Disorder with Perception and Working Memory Indexes

Researcher: Gerly Tamm
Advisors: Kristof Hoorelbeke & Ernst Koster
Collaborators: Center for Applied Social Sciences at the University of Tartu, prof. Jukka Leppänen (University of Turku)

Social anxiety disorder is a mental disorder characterized by irrational fear of other people and avoidance of social situations (DSM-5, 2013). Social anxiety fluctuates in time, with up to 70% relapse rate (Keller, 2006). Nearly half of people with social anxiety do not work (Keller, 2006) or have dropped out of school (Finning et al., 2019). Currently, there is no good, modern and simple preventative tool available for everyone that would help to predict and prevent recurrence of SAD symptoms. The present international applied research project aims to study cognitive correlates that could be applied in real life as self-monitoring tools. We will study face perception and working memory, and apply predictive statistical modelling techniques to capture the most relevant indexes.

Funding: University of Tartu Feasibility Fund, Experimental Applied Research Grant to Gerly Tamm

For more information, please contact Gerly Tamm.


Emotional PASAT

Researcher: Gerly Tamm
Principal investigators/Promotors: Kristof Hoorelbeke & Ernst Koster
Collaborators: Mitchel Kappen, Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt

The paced auditory serial addition test (PASAT) is a measure of auditory information processing that was first designed to capture cognitive changes in multiple sclerosis patients. It has been widely used in clinical settings as well as in research. Adaptive PASAT was developed and used for cognitive control training with subjects with anxiety and depression (e.g., Koster et al., 2017), however, its effects were limited which could be due to its neutral content that does not trigger emotional responses during training. However, cognitive control training could be the most efficient if the process that is affected or biased in anxiety or depression (i.e., responses to emotional stimuli) could be targeted directly. Thus, we are currently developing a novel stimulus set that could be used in emotional adaptive PASAT. The expected outcome is that we will be able to use this new measure in cognitive control training procedures as well as a stand-alone test for cognitive functions in emotional context that would help to track cognitive changes in anxiety or depression.

Funder: Ghent University

For more information, please contact Gerly Tamm.